The Daily Bell Interviews Tom Woods

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Daily Bell: Can you summarize the basic points of The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History?

Thomas E. Woods, Jr.: That book argues that the received version of American history is a laughable, ideologically driven distortion of the truth, but one that benefits the state apparatus and its hangers-on. Naturally they want us to believe (among other things) the following:

1) Political decentralization is always bad. Anyone who favors it surely has sinister intentions. Real freedom comes from ceding all powers to the central government, which will employ those powers on behalf of progressive causes.

2) Without government, we’d all be mercilessly exploited by the wicked private sector, and scraping by on subsistence wages. That’s what happened under the “robber barons” of the nineteenth century.

3) All the federal government’s wars have been glorious and just.

The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History smashes all of these, and a great deal else.

Daily Bell: Can you do the same for Meltdown?

Thomas E. Woods, Jr.: I wrote Meltdown because I could see the conventional wisdom – that the free market had caused the financial crisis, and that these blinkered laissez-faire ideologues needed to be put in their place – beginning to ossify. I wanted to make what to me was the obvious case for interventionism as the culprit in the crisis, and the market as the equally obvious solution. (Also, you’d have to be seriously deluded to consider Larry Summers, Robert Rubin, and monetary central planner Alan Greenspan to be laissez-faire ideologues.)

I was seeking to do two things: (1) get the free-market, or “Austrian,” point of view before the public, so it would be clear that a plausible (and indeed compelling) alternative to the conventional wisdom existed; and (2) give supporters of the free market the understanding and the ammunition they needed to defend themselves against the inane claims being made by advocates for the state.

Daily Bell: Can you give us the top five books that someone interested in freedom and free-markets needs to read?

Thomas E. Woods, Jr.: I recommend Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson, Murray Rothbard’s What Has Government Done to Our Money?, Ron Paul’s The Revolution: A Manifesto, Lew Rockwell’s The Left, the Right, and the State, and Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Democracy: The God that Failed. You will never look at things quite the same, and I’m pretty sure you’ll be hooked.

Daily Bell: We consider the regulatory malpractices you identify in Meltdown to be somewhat incidental to the main culprit, which is central bank money manipulation. Agree? Disagree?

Thomas E. Woods, Jr.: I agree, which is why I emphasize the Fed and the monetary system in my public speeches. Still, regulation can intensify the effects of the Fed’s policy, and I think that’s what happened here…

Daily Bell: We think one of the main challenges facing America today is the growth of the so-called pro-military conservative movement. We believe the movement almost purposefully confuses people about Jeffersonian classical liberal thought and is far more challenging to the growing Misesian free-market ideology than the Democrats. Agree? Disagree?

Thomas E. Woods, Jr.: I think they’re both pretty awful. I used to be one of these “the Pentagon can do no wrong” conservatives until I realized a few things: (1) the contradiction at work in my holding up this one government institution as beyond reproach; (2) the fact that government lies surrounding foreign policy are especially egregious and embarrassing, if we’re going to be honest about it; (3) I would have had a field day if the Soviet Union had tried to pull off some of these lies, but when it’s “my” government I instead searched around for supporting evidence to back up the lies; (4) no supporter of the free market can look at military procurement and the military-industrial complex in any detail (and I am confident most conservatives haven’t) without recoiling in utter disgust. And that’s not to mention the unspeakable and completely avoidable devastation and loss of life wrought by this wing of the government in adventures that had more to do with fueling imperial ambition than with actually defending the country. No conservative, especially those who lecture the world about moral relativism, can support Bill Clinton’s sanctions on Iraq, for example. Sanctions always hurt only the subject population. Everyone knows that. A century ago the policy would have been condemned as an act of barbarism.

One of the nice things about Ron Paul’s book The Revolution: A Manifesto is that he holds up what historian George Nash calls the three most significant traditionalist thinkers of the postwar conservative revival – Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver, and Robert Nisbet – and notes that all three were anti-militarist to one extent or another. This is totally unknown to American conservatives today, who think it’s “liberal” to be antiwar or to consider it overkill to spend more on so-called “defense” than the next several dozen countries put together. Among other things, those people ought to read Bill Kauffman’s book Ain’t My America: The Long, Noble History of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle American Anti-Imperialism, which I reviewed last year.

If I may continue with my Kauffman boosting for a moment, I insist people watch his speech (Ron Paul Rally For The Republic, Bill Kauffman) from the great Rally for the Republic Ron Paul held during the week of the Republican Convention. (The first 10 or so seconds of Kauffman are a bit garbled, but it’s worth the wait.)

But the Democrats are a train wreck as well; it’s as if their goal is to wreck the economy with the greatest possible dispatch. And they’re not even sound on war, the issue we’re supposed to believe touches their deepest principles…

Read the whole interview here.

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